Snowy season has turned to thunderstorm season. On my walks to Vorotnavank, I walk carefully for fear of slipping in mud and not snow. Most days are around 60 degrees, but each passing week has gotten hotter. There’s still snow on the mountains guarding my village and they will stay capped until at least July. The last vararans and plitas have been packed away. Sheep, cattle and their owners wander the landscape searching for new grass. Life has been changing over the last few months for all of us living here.
And now, in so many ways, it will repeat itself. This June marks a full year of my service as a Peace Corps volunteer. This time, last year, I had completed my training and was officially sworn in. The very next day I landed on my new host family’s doorstep with about three months of Armenian language lessons and not much else. It’s so strange to think that was all that long ago. It’s hard to say it’s gone by quickly, though. Some days feel as though they stretch on forever.
Looking back at my life in Hayastan, I wonder if I am any different. I know my Armenian is better even though it’s still far from fluent (the other day when someone asked if I had any coins I told them I don’t have any monkeys). I can hold the attention of a 3rd grade class (mostly due to thumb wrestling). I am a way less picky eater (soup made of cow hoof is what did me in). I can function in weather that is well below 0°F (I still prefer +110°F over this).
I think I’ve changed in more important and subtle ways though. Patience has been something that’s been tested and stretched so much here. Cab drivers will try to rip me off, kids won’t show up to my clubs after promising to come, projects fall through at the last minute, the list goes on and on. While these things will still bug me, they certainly won’t ruin my day like they used to. Instead of being disappointed, I try to focus on ways I can make improvements so these things don’t happen again (I’m still not sure how to get cabbies to quit charging me 2000 dram to go a few blocks in Yerevan).
This goes hand in hand with persistence. I could simply show up to school for the required minimum of 15 hours every week and spend the rest of my time locked away from the outside world. I would still be on track to completing my service but I would have the lamest service ever. Instead my fellow PCVs and I will ourselves out of bed and face the inevitable challenges of the day. One example has involved inviting my students to English club, after they’ve pelted me with snowball/ice hybrids the day before. We were told that this is “the toughest job you’ll ever love” but that doesn’t sink in until you’re mired in cultural and language barriers.
I still have plenty of improvements I want to make to myself and my community before I leave but so far I’ve been relatively successful. I’ve made an “English Corner” in my school’s computer room which has over 100 donated books now. I worked with Armenian School Foundation to get new desks, chairs and blackboards for each classroom (I think the old ones came in around the same time Brezhnev was in charge). I started a few English clubs and a sports club (it’s basically a frisbee throwing clinic). As nice as all this is, there’s still a great deal of work if I really want to improve my school and my students’ English.
I, too, hope that I’ve given the people in my village a positive impression of me. I remember being especially wary of my older male students who seemed more like experienced ranchers than average kids. If they weren’t herding cattle and sheep they were drinking and smoking. Initially, I thought they didn’t care about their futures or school at all. Eventually, I got over myself and when I got to know them I found out that most of them had plans for success (they just didn’t involve my English classes or clubs). Now, a year later, they certainly seem more like goofy high school kids trying to figure themselves out. They also just also happen to be good at shooting, smoking and horseback riding.
The best part of my service, however, are my smaller students. They’re all so enthused about anything and everything, especially games that break from the monotony that is school. Granted they still have to learn English whether or not I’m around, but at least I can provide a silly presence in the classroom that also brings context to the language they’re learning. These days most of my students will visibly shake from excitement if I just mention the idea of playing Hangman or Simon Says! Every time I have English club, I end up staying for at least an extra thirty minutes after the kids beg me to play more Uno. The greater aspect that touches me here is that they genuinely enjoy learning.
I know plenty of them might become apathetic about their education as they grow older. I am certain that many of them will forget almost all of the English they’ve learned by the time they are my age. However, I am also sure that many of them will go on to be good people who might be more curious about the world outside of Armenia. I guess in the end that’s been the whole point of my service here.
I hope I can survive another sub zero winter. I hope I can live another year far from friends and family back home. I hope I can become a better teacher and more understanding person. I hope I leave a positive impression of Americans (one where they don’t only think of spies or rappers). I hope my students understand the beauty and freedom education can give.